The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program has collected over 13,000 toys to hand out during the holiday season. (WRDW-TV / Dec. 8, 2011)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011
AIKEN, S.C. -- It's an annual tradition that puts smiles on the faces of thousands of local children.
On Thursday, employees at SRS took part in the Marine Corps Toys for Tots. More than 13,000 toys were donated to the program and will be handed out to parents later this month.
Bag after bag, box after box and don't forget about the bicycles.
"There's some more bikes coming," shouted a volunteer.
The toys were being loaded into waiting trucks. Half go toward Aiken, the other half will head to Augusta for children to open on Christmas Day.
"Giving that child that may not have a toy that Christmas brings hope to that child," explained Gunnery Sgt. Robert Ritchie with the Augusta Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots.
"To be able to, here at the Christmas time, to come together and give something to the little ones, the ones that can't do much about their situation ... we can reach out and help them," added Rob Gentry, the vice president of Site Services at SRNS.
At SRS, the tradition of giving started 20 years ago with workers in the construction department. Now, the holiday cheer is spread all over the 300 square mile site.
"The workers here, the contractors, everybody that's involved just looks forward to this time of year personally and because they can reach out and help the community," Gentry said.
Since 1991, employees have collected more than 228,000 toys.
"Oh it's incredible. SRS is by far our biggest toy pickup and our biggest contributor. We appreciate it very much," said Gunnery Sgt. Ritchie.
Some of these trucks will be driving straight to a storage room in Aiken. It's the Salvation Army Christmas room and it's about to get packed.
"We do it every year and it just lets the community know that we're in the community, we care and among winning America's battles, we also collect toys and help the needy children during Christmas," Ritchie said.
And for the Marine Corps, Toys for Tots is a 64-year mission of love that isn't going anywhere.
"The Marine Corps is not going away and the Toys for Tots is not going away either," Ritchie promised.
SRS says this is one of the largest collection years yet and there's still a few weeks left before Christmas.
For a lot of families this is about more than just toys. In Aiken, The Salvation Army is also collecting clothes for families with their Angel Tree Program. It's really a one-stop shop for these families, many of whom they say are single mothers.